My Pig of a Fight with Swine Flu

By William J. Furney
The Bali Times

It was some kind of syrupy justice. After writing about what I perceive to be unjustified hype over the media- and World Health Organisation-driven “crisis” of swine flu that’s apparently ravaging great swathes of the globe, I fell victim to the H1N1 virus.

I know this not because I went to a doctor – out of fear I would be carted off to the isolation ward of Sanglah Hospital, a fate that has befallen some spluttering foreigners here – but because my virulent symptoms matched word for word the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of indications.

It was while in Jakarta that I caught the bug, from a friend I was staying with who was just getting over an entrenched and nasty flu. My infection started with a sore throat that quickly developed into a hearty, dry cough. It zapped my energy one evening, and I retired early; but other than that it didn’t impact on business or social engagements.

Just over a week later, when I was back in Bali, the flu that was leaving my body became resurgent and struck with all its force. It floored me, stole every smidgen of energy, gave me a swiftly intervening cinema of chills and fever and had me up vomiting vigorously all one night. The nonstop violent coughing was body-wracking.

Then, struck out, the virus was gone. Its punchy swan-song had lasted five days, during which I had had no appetite to speak of. Although I had no option but to work, I was forced to cancel a number of glitzy evening affairs here in Bali. I felt like I was moving in slow motion, and tasks were taking longer than usual to complete. It was a full-on flu with no respite in sight.

I had taken over-the-counter antibiotics, high doses of vitamin C, garlic and non-drowsy cough medicine, as there is currently no vaccine or other medication to ward off or battle swine flu.

Did I regret writing about writing this condition off as I had, arguing that, based on available figures, it was no more potent than ordinary flu, which millions of people are infected with each year and the vast majority survive? No. But I was nonetheless taken aback at how brutal it was. My vigorous daily workout routine, and strict diet, has given me a fit and healthy body, and I wondered how someone not in the full of their health might get over swine flu.

But as this newspaper has noted before, fears over a plague-like return of flu pandemics of yore are entirely misplaced. (The always-paranoid Chinese authorities sealed an entire town last week after three people died from pneumonic plague – the blockade was lifted this week, and comes after they were last seen padlocking entire hotels and turning suspected swine flu-infected aircraft back.)

There is no comparison between the vast arsenal of medical supplies available to us today and during the great flu pandemic of 1918 that lasted for a year and is thought to have killed up to 100 million people.

True, there’s nothing you can take to kill the swine flu bug – although Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical company, says it has started human clinical trials of a vaccine, in a study that is expected to take a year to complete – but this is generally the case with all influenzas. You just have to sweat it out.

As Indonesia’s health minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, said last week, only three people have died in this country from swine flu so far and many more have died from far more serious illnesses, such as dengue fever, which no one is paying attention to. To wit: Malaria. So as with many things in life: perspective.

It’s quite a turnaround for the minister, though, as previously she had been vexed about foreigners coming to Indonesia and infecting the population (particularly from neighbouring Australia, which has recorded the world’s second-highest number of swine flu cases, after Mexico, where President Barack Obama was summiting this week), and had suggested people arriving in Bali be given face masks and made to wear them for extended periods. Now she’s – finally – saying that even isolating foreigners at Sanglah is not really required after all.

That should come as some relief to all arriving on our shores.

william@thebalitimes.com

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